Richland County has more monuments to Black women than anywhere else, researcher says

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Civil rights activist Modjeska Simkins in her home. GINGER PINSON THE STATE

When you think about public monuments in the American South, you probably think of the Civil War, controversy around statues, and almost certainly of white men.

But Richland County has a different history that, while not hidden, is not as well known as the monuments you might be thinking of.

According to one researcher, the Midlands county has the most public memorials to Black women of any county in the United States.

Richland County has 17 monuments to Black women — nine historical markers, three historic sites and at least five street names.

▪ The Alston House, 1811 Gervais St., where Caroline Alston both lived and ran a dry goods business in the 1870s and ‘80s, one of the few Black-owned businesses in the city.

▪ Celia Dial Saxon School, which opened as the Blossom Street School between Assembly and Park streets in 1898. It became an all-Black segregated school in 1929 and was renamed in honor of Celia Saxon, who pioneered African-American education in the capital city for more than 50 years.

▪ Columbia Hospital’s “Negro Nurses,” at Harden and Washington streets, marks the site of Columbia Hospital’s former Negro unit, and a nursing school and dormitory that produced more than 400 Black nurses from the 1940s to the 1960s.

▪ The Harriet Barber House, on Lower Richland Boulevard near Barberville Loop Road. Built on a 42-acre plot Harriet and her husband Samuel purchased in 1872 through the S.C. Land Commission, set up after the Civil War to allow freed slaves like the Barbers to purchase land. Portions of the land remain in the Barber family to this day.

▪ The Harriet M. Cornwell Tourist Home, 1713 Wayne St., run by Hattie Cornwell after the death of her husband, along with her daughters Geneva Scott and Harriet Cornwell, this home provided a safe stop for Black travelers before the hospitality industry was desegregated by the Civil Rights Act.

▪ Mann-Simons Cottage, 1403 Richland St., built before 1850, this was the home of the free Black couple Celia Mann and Ben Delane before the Civil War, one of the few households of free people of color in the city. The house was inherited by Mann’s daughter, Agnes Jackson Simons, and the family’s descendants maintained the home until it was converted into a museum in the 1970s.

▪ Matilda A. Evans House, 2027 Taylor St. From 1928 until her death in 1935, this was the home of Evans, an Aiken native who became the first Black woman to practice medicine in the state when she opened a practice in 1897. Evans went on to found Columbia’s first hospital for black patients and to advocate for public health improvements.

▪ Modjeska Simkins House, 2025 Marion St. For 60 years, this was the home of Modjeska Simkins, a Columbia native and Benedict College graduate who helped found the S.C. Conference of the NAACP and bring the Briggs v. Elliott case that overturned school segregation. The home became a public museum after Simkins died in 1992.

▪ Monteith School, 6510 Main St. Rachel Monteith reopened this former white school in 1921 as a school for Black students. She went on to serve as principal, and the school was named after her in 1932. Monteith’s daughter was civil rights activist Modjeska Simkins.

Street names:

▪ Celia Saxon Street, named for the pioneer in African-American education. Runs between Read Street and Walker Solomon Way near the Drew Wellness Center, one block east of Harden Street.

▪ Dawn Staley Way, named for the USC basketball coach who led the Gamecock women’s team to a national championship in 2017. A section of Lincoln Street that passes Colonial Life Arena.

▪ Emily England Clyburn Way, a section of Juniper Street near David Street in the Greenview neighborhood, former home of civil rights activist, education advocate and late wife of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.

▪ Matilda Evans Street, the former Williams Drive near Segra Park in the BullStreet neighborhood, named for the public health advocate and first woman to practice medicine in South Carolina.

▪ Sarah Mae Flemming Way, Washington Street between Assembly and Main, named for a young woman who protested segregated seating in 1954 by refusing to give up her seat on a Columbia bus, more than a year before Rosa Parks’ more famous protest in Montgomery, Alabama.

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